Apr 02 2013

We probably all see bureaucracy every day in the various processes of our companies, the stores we visit & the agencies we do business with, whether privately or professionally. I just finished reading Honore’ de Balzac’s Bureaucracy and the story rang true to what I see every day. However, the bit that I am struggling with currently, is the amount of bureaucracy that I see in many companies’ Lean or CI programmes. While I am not suggesting that they should be devoid of any bureaucracy, some is almost always necessary to ensure the systems that are introduced are maintained and that the organisation is working from a common platform. However, I have seen many programmes that have, or at least seem to me to have, unnecessary additional processes or restrictions that add zero value to the programme, product or service & in many ways make the effective transformation of the culture of the business if not impossible, incredibly difficult.

There will probably be a few Lean aficionados or gurus who know what I am talking about & yet many more that will wonder what in the world I am saying when I say that a Lean system’s architecture & the administration that goes with it can be taken too far. Layers of steps & processes that must be followed to deliver the end result do not make for a leaner organisation. Knowing what the end result is and having a solid set of guiding principles to get you there is much more effective than a simplified process sequence that anyone can follow to enable no thinking on the part of the operators, technicians and other front line staff. I wonder how many Lean journeys are started & carried on for years where the only objective is to “be lean” in that we do “lean things”; root cause problem solving, having kanbans & doing Kaizens rather than having an objective of creating a true, cultural shift with innovative & engaged people at the core of a continuously improving organisation?

The true value in continuous improvement, in Lean comes from the engagement of everyone and the empowering (Sorry, I too hate the management buzz word) of the workforce to make their own improvements and to learn how to do that & come up with new & innovative ways to do so. Restricting that process to a specific set of rules that everyone must follow seems counter-intuitive to me. OK, maybe at the outset of a new programme more guidance is required to ensure people are following a process & that they all build on a common platform of understanding. However, as the journey progresses, we should be reducing the limitations on problem solving & the layers of bureaucracy within the structure of the programme itself.

There should be a set of tools to use, AND the openness to try new approaches, as long as the basic principle of PDCA is followed, then the outcomes should guide our future processes. As far as the systems & the overall programme are concerned, the more layers & levels of sign-offs, approvals & certifications present, the more bureaucracy becomes part of how we improve our processes, and that is waste.

So the question is this; does your problem solving process have a specific set of steps to follow which tells you exactly what to do at each stage or is it a guiding principle with many options at each stage to enable the team to use the most appropriate tool for the problem at hand? Similarly, does your programme have more rules, stages, sign-offs, monitoring and reporting than your actual business processes? Are you going around measuring how well you follow these rules? Assessing how “Lean” you are rather than how well the bottom line is improving? Do you set yourself targets to be “more lean” than last year? Is this measured in the number of events held, or the number of people trained? Does this add value? Shouldn’t we be measuring the effectiveness of those events, or the effectiveness of the training through the value delivered to the business? Shouldn’t we focus on what the programme is delivering rather than how well we deliver the programme? I say the former adds value to the business, the latter adds bureaucracy!

 photo credit: neilsphotoalbum via photopin cc

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